Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | August 22, 2021
Once upon a time, there was a fellow known as “Blind Henry.” Blind Henry lived in Minneapolis with his mother and most days he would go to Hennepin Avenue where he would play his guitar and sing. Blind Henry was part of the scenery on the street. He survived as best he could around the edges and toward the outside of the mainstream.
Back in those days people thought that if something was wrong with you, then you must have done something to deserve it. They were very religious in those days and thought that if you were good, God would be good to you. If you were bad, then God would let you know it. People might have dropped the odd coin into Blind Henry’s guitar case, they saw him for what he was – a man born blind – a sure sign from God.
People could feel good about having Blind Henry around to remind them of how they weren’t so bad off. He was like their moral canary in the coal mine – as long as he was blind and they could see, then God must be okay with them.
One day, a Sunday afternoon in fact, Blind Henry was standing outside a Starbucks playing his guitar and singing like he usually did. There was a good Sunday crowd passing by. That day Jesus and some of his friends were walking up Hennepin.
Jesus saw Blind Henry and he and his pals stopped to listen to him play and sing. Since it was a Sunday in those days there weren’t supposed to be any buskers on the street. But blind Henry was playing and singing softly.
That’s why he could hear Jesus and his pals talking about him. One of them said, “Take this guy for example – blind obviously – so who sinned? He or his parents before he was born?”
Blind Henry had heard it all before. People coming along and talking about him like he wasn’t there. He was blind, not deaf. Maybe it’s just part of human nature for there to want there to be a balancing of the scales.
“Look at that man, son. You’d better be a good boy, or you’ll end up like him.”
It would only seem right that people who live a good life get their good rewards and people who live a bad life get their come-uppance. Blind Henry never did anything bad and his mom was good people who went to church twice on every Sunday.
Folks along the street in those days couldn’t seem to just leave well enough alone. There had to be a reason for everything. Blind Henry must have heard them all. The funny thing was that the folks who were always trying to find a reason for him being born blind tended to see themselves on the good side of God’s good graces.
Jesus said to his pals, “This man was born blind so that God’s works might be seen in him.”
Blind Henry was playing along on his guitar and he thought to himself, “That’s a new one.” And he started singing a little ditty he made up on the spot.
“Thank you Lord, for making me blind…”
Then Jesus and his pals realized he was listening to them. Jesus had a laugh and said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” He happened to be eating some fish and chips with mushy peas and he took some of the peas and rolled them into a mushy ball and said to Blind Henry, “Here, let’s try something.”
Blind Henry said, “Try away, man.”
Jesus took the mushy peas and put them on Blind Henry’s eyes like eye patches. He said, “Now go wash those peas off.”
Blind Henry went into the Starbucks where he used the restroom and washed off the mushy pea eye patches that Jesus had put on him. And when he did, he could see. He could see himself there in the mirror for the first time in his life. He let out a loud whoop and ran back outside and by that time Jesus and his pals had moved on.
So, he picked up his guitar and started playing and singing again. Only this time he could see! He was watching the people walk by and they were looking at him. Odd though, people looked at him kind of funny now. And they still talked about him as if he wasn’t there.
“Hey, isn’t that Blind Henry? Sure looks like him, but when did he start seeing? No, must be someone else. Sounds like him though – can’t be though.”
Blind Henry no longer blind now, so we can just start calling him Henry, would say to people, “It is me! Can’t you see?! It’s me! I can see!”
People said, “Yeah, so you say. But if you are Blind Henry, or used to be Blind Henry and now just Henry, how is it you came to see?”
He told them how the guy named Jesus put the mushy pea patches on his eyes and when he washed them off, he could see.
But people said, “So where is this ‘Jesus’ fellow that you claim did this for you? We don’t see any ‘Jesus’ around here.”
But isn’t it part of our human nature to be just a bit skeptical of when someone says, “I saw the light?” We like our cozy religious systems and we find our codes and dogmas comfortable. We can lean on them and they are solid in times of shadow and doubt. But light and enlightenment are another matter. Light and enlightenment cut through all the codes and dogmas to go directly to the source – right into the soul. Better that we rely on the safe words of what we’ve “heard” about God than to have to deal with any direct experience of “seeing” God.
As the days passed people began to talk a lot about Henry and his situation. One day a group of elders from the big church came by where Henry was busking and suggested he come over to where they were having an Emergency Session Meeting.
“Let’s get an expert opinion on this, shall we?” And of course, once authentic spiritual experience comes face to face with expert religious opinion, you don’t have to be a prophet in order to predict the outcome.
The elders all sitting around a table heard Henry’s story and said there was a problem with his so called “healing.” The day on which it was “supposed” to have happened, happened to be the Sabbath. And everyone knew that God’s law said you can’t work on the Sabbath. Mixing together mushy peas into the shape of eye patches was technically work, so the man who did that, this “Jesus” or whatever his name was, was breaking the Sabbath and therefore a sinner. And everyone knows that sinners can’t do God’s work.
In their collective religious wisdom the elders concluded, “Henry, you were never blind to begin with.” But just to be on the safe side they called in his mom and questioned her. “Is this your son and was he born blind? What do you say, he seems to be able to see now, how did this come about?”
But she was afraid if she gave the wrong answer she would be kicked out of church. So she said, “He is old enough to speak for himself, let him tell you.”
They called Henry back into the meeting room. “What did this Jesus fellow do, exactly? Which hand did he use when he mixed the mushy pea patches? What did he say? When did you… who were the… why was he…”?
Finally Henry said, “You’re asking so many questions about this Jesus – do want to be his disciples, is that it?! He must be from God or he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did!”
Then the religious experts did what they always do when they run out of answers, they threw him out and told him, “Don’t ever show your face around here again, you sinner!”
Henry wandered back up the street for a while looking at things and people he had never seen before and then he thought, “I might as well get back to work.” He found his familiar spot outside Stabucks and started playing and singing like he had done his whole life. But there was one big difference – whereas before no one bothered to give him a second look, now he could see everything quite clearly.
Enlightenment doesn’t always lead to happiness. It just means you see the world and the people in it with some clarity. But the light of enlightenment is also life-giving, and it begins to dawn that the presence of God, previously unseen, is in all and through all and therefore no matter what else happens, that life cannot be taken away. That light cannot be dimmed.
On another day, much like any day, Henry was in his spot and Jesus came by.
“I heard you got kicked out of the church,” he said. “Do you have faith in the Son of Humanity?”
“Who would that be?” Henry answered, “Tell me so that I might believe.” He knew that voice.
“You have seen him,” said Jesus. “The one who speaks to you now is he.”
And with that Henry nodded his head. He had “seen” him certainly; seen him with the eyes of his soul. He had seen him as one who sees the realm of God in being born from above.
We remember that the story comes from John’s Gospel where not everything is as it seems at first glance. This man who was born blind, who is he really? He is simply, Humankind. He is you, me – all of us – born into the world seeing and not seeing to some degree. And all of us are seen by God, noticed though we can feel unseen and excluded and alone. But God sees the heart and soul, where we reside apart from any condition that either puts us in the mainstream, or on the edges.
Jesus said to him, “There are different kinds of seeing. My purpose is to empower the blind to see and to show those who claim ownership of sight to know how utterly blind they actually are.”
As Jesus walked away Henry started singing a familiar old tune –
“Just like a blind man I wandered along
Worries and fears I claimed for my own
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight
Praise the lord I saw the light.”